Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Thievery #4: "The Gunslinger" by Stephen King

And... we're back! And this time, with one of the only authentically original fantasies I've ever read. Am I under-read in the genre? Or is everyone still stuck on Germanic mythology in just about every imaginable way?

The Gunslinger is by far one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. It is not only highly original - an "epic fantasy" in a wild-western sort of world that has "moved on" - it demonstrates, as usual, King's remarkable ability to make deep emotional bonds with relatively little to-do - you know, as though he were some sort of magician, or something.

In particular, The Gunslinger appealed to a few matters of style and substance that were irresistible to me - so irresistible, indeed, that I am herein resurrecting the Thursday Thieves' Guild explicitly for its creative rending. So, without further do:

1. Six-shooters: I'm partial to anything involving revolvers, and the gunslinger's got two of them. Not only does he possess them; he utilizes them to devastating effect. And on top of that, he has near-magical knowledge of his weapons and ammunition. Six-shooters, I'm afraid, are a might bit more interesting than talking swords.

2. Physiological magic: The man in black, the gunslinger's quarry, casts spells in a physiological manner: jumping, spitting, doing the nasty. Never have I been privy to such awesome spell-casting scenes in the written form. It's a sort of devil-magic, too, which makes all the body-involvement particularly dark and, concomitantly, convincing.

3. Landscapes that speak: There are really only two landscapes in this book, a desert and a mountain range, but both are incredibly powerful in terms of their employment as narrative devices. In the foreward, King claims that he was inspired to write "The Gunslinger" after seeing "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly," and wanted to write a story with the same sense of grandeur. It has it. In "Wizardry and Wild Romance," Michael Moorcock notes that landscapes are a method by which fantasy can extrude internal psychological mechanisms. In this book, the landscapes move with the gunslinger, so that character development and plot movement - viz., along the quest-path - are intertwined.

4. Moral ambiguity: This is basically a must for me in any book now; heroes, I'm not looking for. The gunslinger says its perfectly when the kid, Jake, asks him, "The man in black... is he a bad man?" and the gunslinger replies, "I guess that depends on where you're standing."

This is the first "first" of a series that I've picked up in years that I intend to read out. Normally, I prefer loosely associated works, like Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris Cycle. But if "The Gunslinger" is any indication of the excellence of the rest of the Dark Tower series, there's no way I can resist it. If nothing else, I can only hope that reading such original fantasy helps me develop my own sense of the new and original for the genre.



  1. Damn you, now I'm jonesing for re-read. I read The Gunslinger, and then about half of Drawing of the Three, before I decided I'd wait to read the Dark Tower until after college. I might just change that decision...

  2. The first one is definitely the best one, but there are some INCREDIBLE moments in the books that follow.

  3. Also, be sure to check out the DARK TOWER graphic novels once you've finished the original series.

  4. It wasn't really my type of story, but I read The Gunslinger and found it interesting. I should probably check out another Stephen King book some time.